Having recently won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this month, Naomi Alderman’s novel-cum-feminist-thought experiment The Power is one of the books everyone seems to be talking about at the moment. Exploring the idea of what would happen if women held power over men, and weren’t afraid to abuse it, this gripping, innovative story passes beyond the remit of any standard thriller into a global, sprawling parable of what it means to be a woman today.
What’s it about?
The narrative is grounded in four protagonists – three female, one male – whose disparate backgrounds account for the remarkably wide perspective to the story. There’s an East End gangster’s daughter; an ambitious US female politician; an orphan who has suffered a lifetime of abuse; and a young man from Nigeria with a keen journalistic instinct. All of them glimpse the chance to forge a new life in a new world when, over the course of just a few days, teenage girls across the globe begin to develop a mysterious electrical power, enabling them to maim or even kill men.
And the key themes?
As their power grows, female-led riots and coups spread from nation to nation, the established order is shaken to its core and hysteria mounts over the source of this mysterious force. This global and historically-rooted framework opens up room for sharp and close-to-the-bone parallels to modern gender and race relations, political and environmental issues, and religious fanaticism in times of crisis, while pushing the reader to question the line between redressing the balance of power and exacting vengeance.
Alderman’s prose crosses from witty, light-hearted interactions to sweeping action to moments of almost mythical significance. And, having been mentored by Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood – author of The Handmaid’s Tale – we’d expect no less.
Aside from the larger issues looming overhead, the inclusion of individual perspectives focuses the scope of the novel and fosters a human, funny and compelling tone. The women and men portrayed here are bright, resilient and possess distinct voices – simultaneously horrified and enthused by this new-found power. Challenging, ambitious and relevant in its content, Alderman hasn’t forgotten the need to entertain, as the book is also a joy to read.
What are people saying?
Roundly well-received, The Guardian has dubbed the “smart, readable and joyously achieved” novel an “instant classic” whilst it was awarded the 2017 Baileys Prize due to Alderman’s realisation of “big ideas and her fantastic imagination.” Mentor Atwood also has nothing but praise, saying The Power’s lasting impact will make you “think twice, about everything”. If that isn’t enough to convince you to grab a copy, it comes highly recommended from Team SL, too…